A jury has rebuked the Metropolitan Police for abandoning a 17-year-old boy who committed suicide after officers treated his threats as ‘attracting attention’.
Samuel Howes, the youngest of four siblings, died after being hit by a train at South Croydon station on 2 September 2020.
A jury-led inquiry into his death at South London’s Coroner’s Court found that the teenager had been admitted to an emergency room more than 40 times and had contact with police 178 times in the three years prior to his death.
Samuel was last in contact with police just two days before taking his own life, with a jury concluding that the way he had been treated by officers, along with poor inter-agency communication, contributed to his death.
The jury outlines a number of failures, including a lack of steps to seek an assessment of his mental health, an inadequate approach to staff and the Met’s inadequate response to missing persons reports after officers took ‘zero’ steps to find him.
Samuel Howes, the youngest of four siblings, died after being hit by a train at South Croydon station on September 2, 2020
Suzanne, Samuel’s mother, said after the inquest that the loss of her son was “a crushing heartbreak”, adding that the missed opportunities to save his life “would haunt us forever”
Jurors also explained how agencies including the Met and British Transport Police (BTP) “identified Covid as an obstacle to justify their inadequate responses”.
Suzanne, Samuel’s mother, said after the inquest that the loss of her son was “a crushing heartbreak,” adding that the missed opportunities to save his life “would haunt us forever.”
Investigative jury denounces Met Police for dealing with teenager who committed suicide
The jury ruled that the following factors may have contributed to his death:
– The inadequate response of mental health and/or social care services to Samuel’s dependence on alcohol and the possibility of a rehabilitation placement
– Inadequate sharing of risk information by assistance and/or GGZ with each other and with the police.
– Sharing risk information by the Met and/or BTP with partner agencies.
– Steps taken by the MPS to have Samuel’s mental health assessed by a Liaison and Diversion practitioner while in custody on August 30 and 31, 2020.
– The inadequate handling of staff and assurance processes within Croydon Custody Suite.
– Multi-agency failures and the poor response to the MPS’ missing persons investigation.
– Samuel’s interactions with his girlfriends
Samuel, who had a history of OCD, anorexia and self-harm, was arrested by BTP officers on August 30, 2020 while under the influence of alcohol.
While in custody, he repeatedly hit his head and his clothes were confiscated.
He was left naked on a cell floor, after which an officer described his behavior as “attention seeking” and “quite normal.”
Neither a custody nurse nor a psychiatric liaison nurse saw Samuel while he was in custody. Instead, the latter was told that Samuel was “known and violent” and did not need to be seen.
He was later released without a mental health assessment and police did not notify his family of the incident.
Two days after his arrest, Samuel did not return to the semi-independent accommodation he was living in under the care of Croydon Council’s security team.
He was registered as a missing person by the Met on 1 September 2020 and himself tearfully contacted the London Ambulance Service from a friend’s house and expressed suicidal thoughts.
Police officers went to the address, but did not find Samuel there.
They did not notify his family or conduct an active search, the inquest heard. His risk level was considered “medium,” despite a history of vulnerability.
Samuel was found dead the next day.
The jury recorded a narrative verdict of “suicide was likely caused by his mental health and use of drugs and/or alcohol.”
A statement from the jury said: ‘There was an inadequate approach to staff and the security process within the Croydon custody suite.
Samuel’s actions were considered attention-seeking The [forms] were not completed.
“Limited cooperation between the Met Police and British Transport Police led to a lack of recognition of Samuel’s mental health needs, resulting in inadequate care.”
Ms Howes said after the inquest: ‘The loss of Samuel has been a crushing heartbreak, traumatic beyond our comprehension. Every day and every new experience we face as a family is impacted by his loss. We are forever changed by his death.
“Samuel needed and deserved protection. He had spiraled, often in crisis and reverting to self-harm. I feared for his life along with many professionals. He said he wouldn’t turn 18.
Samuel had last contact with police just two days before he committed suicide, with a jury concluding that the way he had been treated by officers, along with poor inter-agency communication, contributed to his death
“Measures should have been taken to protect him and provide enveloping care to ensure his safety. Croydon Children’s Services, as its parent company, should have led this response.
‘The Metropolitan Police and the British Transport Police should be ashamed of themselves. Samuel screamed for help while in custody and seriously injured himself. Several police officers labeled him “attention seeking”. The culture of casual indifference and lack of accountability in both police forces is shocking.”
The Met referred itself to the Independent Office for Police Conduct after Samuel’s death.
A probe later found that five officers should receive “informal management action.”
Superintendent Fi Martin said: ‘The death of a young person is all the more tragic when it turns out that they have come into contact with the police and have not received the high level of service we strive for day in and day out.
“We will now take a moment to carefully consider and learn from the jury’s findings.”
Debbie Jones, chairman of Croydon Safeguarding Children Partnership, said it has launched a review.
She added, “We can learn a lot from Samuel as a partnership.”
- For confidential support, call the Samaritans at 116123 or visit a local branch. To see www.samaritans.org for details.